This isn’t the first or even the second time I’ve read something by Andrew Sullivan that I considered interesting and thoughtful but it still comes as a shock every time, coming as it does from the original Trig Truther. I’ll probably never get over that but in the meantime, he does have a good point today about the state of modern feminism as it relates to what might be called maleness. He starts with a personal observation:
My testosterone levels had sunk, and I decided, given my lassitude, depression, and lack of sexual desire, to go on hormone replacement therapy to get me back in a healthy range for a 30-something male. It was a fascinating experience to witness maleness literally being injected into me, giving me in a sudden jump what had been there all along, and what I now saw and felt more vividly. You get a real sense of what being a man is from an experience like that, as the rush of energy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience and, above all, horniness overcame me every two weeks in the wake of my shot. It was intoxicating.
That experience showed Sullivan that, contrary to some of the ideas currently fashionable among feminists, not all differences between men and women are socially constructed (for the purpose of subjugating women). Some differences are real. They are chemical. And they have real-world results:
How much of this difference is natural and how much is social? That is the question. And the answer is a tricky one. Is the fact that the vast majority of construction workers are male and the huge majority of nurses are female a function of sexism or nature? Is male sexual aggression and horniness a function of patriarchy or testosterone? Is the fact that women now outnumber men among college graduates a function of reverse sexism or nature?
My suspicion is that it’s more about nature than about society, and one reason I believe this (apart from all the data) is I because I’m gay. I live in a sexual and romantic world without women, where no patriarchy could definitionally exist, a subculture with hookups and relationships and marriages and every conceivable form of sexual desire that straight men and women experience as well. And you know what you find? That men behave no differently in sexual matters when there are no women involved at all. In fact, remove women, and you see male sexuality unleashed more fully, as men would naturally express it, if they could get away with it. It’s full of handsiness and groping and objectification and lust and aggression and passion and the ruthless pursuit of yet another conquest. And yes, I mean conquest. That’s what testosterone does. It’s also full of love, tenderness, compassion, jealousy, respect, dignity, and a need for security and a home. It’s men’s revenge on men. The old joke applies: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul. What does a gay man bring on a second date? What second date?
I know this must be a pain in the neck for most women. But it’s who we are. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s called being male, this strange creature, covered in hair, pinioned between morality and hormones, governed by two brains, one above and one below. We can and should be restrained, tamed, kept under control. But nature will not be eradicated. And when left-feminism denies nature’s power, ignores testosterone, and sees all this behavior as a function entirely of structural patriarchal oppression, it is going to overreach. It is going to misunderstand. And it is going to alienate a lot of people. If most men are told that what they are deep down is, in fact, “problematic” if not “toxic,” they are going to get defensive, and with good reason.
Sullivan doesn’t quite say ‘This is how you got Trump’ as I did in my headline, but he does say this issue was an “under-acknowledged cause for Clinton’s failure.” He adds, “At some point, Democrats and liberals are going to have to decide if they want to ‘problematize’ half the voting population.”
Sullivan makes a good point here. It’s possible for the crusade against “toxic masculinity” to go too far and create a pushback that looks a lot like a rally for maleness and testosterone. It looks, in other words, a lot like Donald Trump who, seen as a defender of a certain kind of uncompromising masculinity, makes a certain sense.
Recent events have shown that some extremes of male behavior really are problematic. Guys like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer got away with their behavior for a long time and everyone I know on either side of the aisle agrees their downfall is a good thing. On the other hand, there are men being railroaded in college sexual assault star chambers and guys like Aziz Ansari being treated like monsters for wanting to have sex with women who maybe, sort of seem interested in that (or maybe not).
We’re in the midst of negotiating a new normal but as Sullivan points out, the new normal can’t be one where maleness is viewed as a problem to be solved or something that can be lectured out of existence. It won’t work and the world would be a lesser place if it somehow did.